‘Safer than real sticks’ – the confusing world of pet safety

IMAG1669 (1024x577)As a consumer reporter, product safety falls into my arena of interests. As a dog owner, so does pet safety.    Where these two worlds collide, I’m confused.

I know where learn about product recalls (you are all frequent visitors of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, aren’t you?).  But if I want to find out whether something is safe for my dog, I don’t know what to do.  Some pet food and product warnings come from the Food and Drug Administration, but for other information, I’m lost.

At least,  that’s how I felt this week when confronted by Petstages fake dog sticks in the pet store this week.

“Safer than real sticks,” the packaging says.

As someone who writes about consumer issues, I’m not given to knee-jerk personal responsibility, the-world-is-getting-too-soft-and-too-politically-correct arguments you hear from many corners. But in this case, it’s hard to not impulsively react something like this:


In general, I do believe Mother Nature does a pretty good job of helping animals regulate themselves, and when things go poorly for pets, it’s usually meddling humans who deserve the blame. Dogs often know better than we do what’s best for them.

Not to be close-minded, I scoured the Internet for data on stick-related injuries and dogs.  Let me save you some time: You’ll find a warning issued earlier this year by Robin Hargreaves, president elect of the British Veterinary Association, who said throwing a dog a stick is extremely dangerous.

“Never throw sticks for dogs. Even if you do it now, never do it again,’ he said, according to the Daily Mail. “It is a violent incident that causes real damage.”

Look more, and you’ll find plenty of warnings around web — dogs run into sticks lodged in the ground and jam their throats; pieces of chewed sticks get caught inside a dog’s digestive system; there’s even warnings similar to those you heard in elementary school, that a stick could injure a dog’s eye.

I’m sure anyone who ever worked in a vet’s office can recount a horrible, sad story about dogs and sticks. But sad anecdotes don’t make good policy; data does.  Life is full of accidents, of course. We all make risk calculations every day based on danger and its odds.  How many stick injuries are there? To bastardize a popular phrase, perhaps it’s more likely that my dog will slip in the shower and kill himself tomorrow morning than get injured chasing a stick.

If there’s one injury per vet per month, what does that mean about my dog’s risk?  I hesitate to even hazard a wild guess, but here goes.  Let’s say there’s 1,000 dogs for each vet, or 10,000 games of stick fetch every month, each with 20 tosses of the stick….or odds of 1 in 200,000 that I’ll throw a stick and hurt my dog.  Does that mean I change my fetch-playing ways? NOTE: I made those numbers up.

My point is, I can’t find any numbers like this anywhere. On a webpage for a British product named Safestix, I found a page titled “Stick injuries — the evidence,” on which I found no evidence.

I found a lot of places selling me products after telling me I should be afraid of sticks. But no real data to help me make an honest risk assessment, or that would knock me off my basic approach that Mother Nature knows best. If my dog likes chasing after sticks, and chewing on them, he probably knows what he’s doing.

I suppose I am Lucky. Rusty, my golden retriever, much prefers chasing (and chewing) tennis balls than sticks. But this issue arises often for pet owners. It seems like every day I hear about something else in my home that might kill my dog; but it’s hard to separate fact from fiction from exaggeration. With continued problems involving dog treats and pet food, such as this scary story by friend JoNel Aleccia  at NBC, where do you turn for real pet safety advice? Please, no anecdotes: I want real information.

PS – Glow sticks certainly appear to be toxic to dogs. 


About Bob Sullivan 1342 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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